Firefighters work to mop up hot spots at the Bovee Fire, which blackened more than 18,000 acres in and near the Nebraska National Forest at Halsey. (Courtesy of the Nebraska National Forest and Grasslands)
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information about the cause of the fire.
LINCOLN — Officials confirmed Thursday that a four-wheel utility terrain vehicle (UTV) somehow sparked the wildfire that scorched more than 18,000 acres in and near the Nebraska National Forest.
The fire was declared 94% contained Thursday morning, but later in the day officials with the Rocky Mountain Complex Incident Management Team confirmed earlier reports that a UTV, on a designated trail in the hand-planted forest, had touched off the fire.
The Halsey forest is a popular destination for UTVs and smaller ATVs, with designated trails criss-crossing the 90,000-acre forest, billed as the nation’s largest hand-planted forest.
In an email, Brian Scott, a spokesman for the fire management team, said that precisely how the fire was started was still an open investigation “and as time progresses more information will be made available.”
During an informational meeting Thursday afternoon at Halsey, officials said the dry and windy conditions helped propel the fire just after it started about noon Sunday.
The fire jumped “fuel breaks” designed to stop or slow the advance of the blaze, they said. Foam sprayed on buildings at the forest headquarters helped save those structures,
An update on the Bovee Fire on Thursday morning stated that night crews had been dismissed and were being deployed elsewhere after battling the fire, which started in the forest southwest of Halsey.
Remaining areas of fire concern will be prioritized Thursday to “strengthen fire lines and cool any remaining hotspots,” said spokesman Dan Dallas.
A volunteer firefighter from Purdum died of a medical condition on Sunday while fighting the fire, which destroyed the popular Nebraska State 4-H Camp in the forest that had hosted thousands of children and adults since the 1960s.
The Scott Lookout Tower, which had been renovated in 2011, was also lost in the blaze.
Funeral services for Michael Moody, the 59-year-old firefighter from Purdum, are scheduled Friday at 2 p.m. at Sandhills High School in Dunning.
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